The Odds of Being Killed by a Duck

It’s 2:30 a.m. and I am wandering through cyberspace reading indisputable facts like: You’re more likely to be killed by a donkey than in a plane crash. WHAT? No follow up. Now I’m awake wondering how a donkey might do it. A stealth kick to the head gets my vote. All this doesn’t lead to nowhere. It leads me to back to an encounter I had with a duck earlier in the day. I was dozing in the sunshine at a local park when I opened my eyes to this image.

It is not natural for a duck to approach a slumbering human being with such audacity. But the duck wasn’t alone. He came with an army of friends, all quaking, all expecting me to have something in the way of food to offer them. Which I didn’t.

They chased my heels part way home, hissing and snapping that I had shown up, given them hope, and had dared to leave without as much as tossing a stale slice of bread. Now I’m remembering another time something similar happened. I was in a third world country offering aid following a natural disaster. When we ran out of food and medicine the people were still hurting. They saw our white foreign faces and had conditioned expectations. Their hands went out. Their voices rose. And when we explained that we were empty…a near riot ensued. Our car got tipped. Machetes came out. There was a lot of yelling and some shoving and groping and helplessness on all sides.

It’s human nature to want to help the hurting and the hungry. Something innate in every child wants to feed a quaking duck. But people are meant to help themselves and ducks are intended to forage for their own food.

So now I’m awake wondering where the invisible line is…the one that crosses into enablement and conditions people and animals to expect handouts and to fume when hands are empty. Now I’m reliving experiences that still hurt because I’m short on resources and ability to meet needs that deserved to be met. And I’m wondering what I wonder as a mother, a friend and a human being…When does my helping do more harm than good?

Fellow writer Erol Ozan explained it much better than I’m doing: “Help someone, you earn a friend. Help someone too much, you make an enemy.”

Does that make as much sense to you as it does to me? There has to be a balance between heart and head, right? Our help is meant to strengthen, not weaken, so finding that line is paramount. But the blasted thing keeps moving!

In the meantime, I’m awake looking up the odds of being killed by an angry duck. I can’t find any stats, but I do run across a post listing animals that are more likely to kill me than ducks. Ants (I’ve been attacked TWICE by fire ants). Bees (my father was deathly allergic to bees). Horses and cows (I’ve been kicked by both). Deer (I’ve been in a car that hit a deer, and once a semi in front of me slaughtered a deer and flung the carcass onto my windshield, shattering it—a lovely experience). Snakes (My brain shuts down when I try to remember those horrors). Jellyfish (had to be rescued by a lifeguard in Santa Monica when a school attacked me).  Mosquitos (I’ve survived malaria and dengue). Hippos (yes, I’ve got a hippo encounter to tell sometime—two, in fact). Dogs and sharks complete the list. I’ve never been attacked by a shark, but I have scars from dog bites. I worked for a vet and wanted to be one oh, so many years ago).

Ducks might not be on the list of most deadly animals…but it’s now 3:19 a.m. and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds is playing on a screen in my brain. That’s not all, above the rain’s pitter-pattering on my window…there’s an indisputable sound that I cannot be imagining…quack…quack…quack.

My Most Authentic Job

Creativity is great for the brain and the heart. That made me realize that my lawn looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. Dandelions and weeds everywhere—in spite of some very expensive fertilizer stuff guaranteed to kill the bad and nourish the good. Truth is, my life sorta resembles a Pollock painting. There’s nothing linear about it at the moment. I’m circling in a lot of directions, splattering, and making a work of art that some people will love and others will judge as trash.

I’m good with that. So good.

That’s because it’s finally sinking in that I’m here to paint a life that God wants. That’s it. I’m not here to judge anyone—including myself. I’m not here to rant about the unfairness of the world.  I’m here to change my world. That means I love without borders. I give without thought of getting. I can’t worry what others think of me. Odd as it seems, that’s not my concern. My concern is to live a life that serves, restores, creates, appreciates, and grows the good stuff like love, forgiveness, laughter, joy, music, art, relationships, faith and loads and loads of hope.

Unfortunately, I’ve been brutal to myself. I’ve believed the worst that others had to say about me. Living in that deadly shadow has only made me feel insignificant and unwanted. It’s made me sick and weak on the inside, tho I might appear strong on the outside. Now I realize that I don’t have stop progressing because someone doesn’t approve of me. I especially realize that the self-judgement has to stop and the self-love has to flow.

Did you read the story about the teacher who took twin apples and secretly bruised the heck out of one, then set them side by side and asked her young students to speak kindly to one and cruelly to the other? When she cut them open, the apple that had been praised and loved was whole, crisp and juicy inside. The apple that had been mocked and judged and abused was brown and mushy and injured inside. That’s what bullying does. And don’t think it’s just kids who bully.

This Easter weekend as I reflect what it means to be a true Christian, I’ll focus on resurrection of the body and the spirit. I’ll reflect on a life that teaches me how to love and how to live now, so that death has no string. I’ll use my faith and the power of God to resurrect what’s bruised and broken and even dead within me.

I’m so far from the person I want to be. I’m so sorry it’s taken this long to learn that I’m not here on Earth to paint or criticize someone else’s art, I’m only here to create my own. (So sorry for the unwanted splotches I’ve flung at your canvases, my peeps.) I’ll be here if you need to borrow a brush or paint. I’ve got a lot of indigo to spare because that’s my favorite color. The Old Testament says it’s God’s favorite color too.

In the meantime, my hope for you is that joy sneaks up on you and hugs you tight. That sunshine warms your soul from the inside out. That whatever hurts within you begins to heal. I don’t believe I’ve ever been more grateful to be alive. Just alive. So get out there and paint the life that’s in you so you can share it with the world. Trust me, we need your beauty and creativity—every brushstroke matters.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned

The photo is of my little Adelaide “wondering” what it would be like to jump into the Gulf of Mexico. I told her not to get wet, but she’s three and raging with curiosity. So I just stood in awe and took photos.

The etymology of the word wonder means of ultimate unknown origin. It also means to magnify or to be astonished. Have you ever wondered why your life has not gone as planned? I mean no one gets married planning to get divorced. No one drives to work planning to be broadsided by a semi. No one pencils “get cancer” into their weekly schedule.

Last week I heard a story about the Children of Israel’s plight when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took Jews captive. What business did “God’s people” have living in a land surrounded by idols? What business did they have living so far away from their beloved temple? The Babylonian king’s strategy was brilliant…let the foreign captives live among his own, and in time they were bound to adapt the Babylonian way of living and thinking, especially the younger malleable generation. The stunned and indignant Jews just knew that God would not leave them in Babylon for any length of time. So, they prayed and planned for their imminent deliverance.

I’ve read the Old Testament a couple of times yet I never realized that these good and faithful people wanted exactly what I want out of life—to live it according to plan. MY plan. The Jews prayed that God would vindicate them and return them to their rightful land. That was their plan, but God had a different plan. He told them to be patient, that their captivity would last up to seventy years, so they should settle in, build houses, plant gardens and eat what they grew. The people, especially the older ones, knew this meant they would never return home. Imagine how they felt. (Jeremiah 29)

For a lot of us, we don’t have to imagine too strenuously. We know how it feels to have our plans come undone. We live with ongoing disappointment. Well, after Sunday’s sermon I realized that faith in our Highest Power means having faith in divine unflawed love, a force that wants us to be happy and successful. Try telling that to the woman who desperately wanted a husband and children, but remains single. Tell that to the spouse who was faithful to an unfaithful partner. Tell that to my friend whose baby, the one they waited thirteen years to have, the son they hinged all their dreams on, was born with trisomy 21, an extra copy of chromosome 21.

My own life has known a lot more dead ends than long stretches of open road. I’ve learned that it’s better to be alone than in a toxic relationship. My friend who was initially devastated to learn that her son had Down Syndrome, now celebrates the fact that the kid manufactures pure joy. He’s taken his family on a wondrous detour they never would have chosen to journey. In the process, they’ve all evolved in a way their original plan could not have facilitated.

It’s fitting that a rabbi said: Man plans and God laughs. It’s time for me to stop complaining and start trusting that when I hit a brick wall there’s an unseen reason. Maybe it’s to make God laugh, the way a parent does when a toddler tumbles, only to spring back up to cheers. He knows that every time I get back up, I’m transformed. Maybe the wall is to stop me from making a mistake, or turn me in a different direction or protect me. No matter. I’m going to rewire my brain’s rutted circuitry and see it as a plot twist in the story that’s my life. What would a story be without an unforeseen plot twist? It’d be boring and predictable. I can hardly wait to turn the next page because the Author and Finisher I’ve come to know does not do boring and predictable. He does wonder.

Making Life Simpler

It’s happening. Every day I get closer to living my ultimate dream of what I call spiritual simplicity. What it really means is I’m getting rid of “stuff” and focusing on what really matters to me…people, service, experiences and learning.

Did you realize that U.S. consumers are parents to only 3 percent of the world’s children, but we blessed American dads and moms purchase forty percent of the world’s toys? That statistic boggled my brain. What toys do kids need these days to experience a happy, creative, rewarding childhood? We took baby Nellie to the park this past weekend and all she needed was the great outdoors. She played with a stick. She found joy in the swing set, the ducks, and a dog that happened by. When the malamute attempted to steal her stick, Nellie was having none of it. She became the dog and stuck it in her mouth and dared us to wrestle it from her. Nature and her imagination. You can’t buy those two things at any toy store.

       That got me to thinking how joyous life is when we keep it simple. The happiest people I know are people who pull the car over to look at a sunset, or weep at the budding of a flower, or roll up their pants to run into the ocean waves. People who aren’t too rushed to pay attention to other people. They have time to stop and “chat” with a neighbor. People who are curious. People who bend down to speak on a child’s level. People who sing along to the radio. People who dance when the music starts. People who create. People who take God at His word.

       I’ve been reading a lot about Thoreau and his quest to “live deliberately.” We mistakenly believe he went deep into the woods to get away from the din of society. Not true. Emerson’s little piece of property where Thoreau took refuge sat on the outskirts of town.

       We don’t have to go far. We don’t have to spend much. We don’t have to cave to advertisers telling us what will make us happy. We’ve got an inner voice that speaks the truth and guides us to true happiness. The problem is we’ve also got a crowd of other voices and they all speak louder. They all have opinions about how we should live.

       Silly us.

       We’re responsible for the quality of our lives. We’re responsible for our own happiness. Tomorrow I’ll make another bag of “stuff” and donate it. That makes me happier than going to the store and bringing another bag of “stuff” into our home.

       Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe the kids should take me seriously when I tell them to pick up their “stuff.” Whatever is going on, I’m glad life is getting simpler.

          

 

  

 

 

Think Like Tesla

The more I learn about the human brain the more convinced I am that “thoughts” are how human beings are connected not only to each other, but to the Source of Everything. When we learn to tune ourselves to this Source, there is nothing we cannot understand. This past year I developed a bit of an obsession with Nikola Tesla, one of the most eccentric and mystical minds—maybe ever. This is the guy who developed AC (alternating current). He earned more than 700 patents and pioneered wireless communication, x-rays, lasers, artificial lightning, electric engines, radar and robotics.

You can study his biography. It’s beyond fascinating. But today I just want to share with you a few of the techniques Tesla used to tune his own brain so he could receive inspiration and insight. Then I want you to try opening your own brain to the same Source and see what happens.

Intended Meditation

            I always thought meditating was sitting still and letting inspiration find you. For me, the sitting still part is torture, especially when I’m meditating with a group. Everybody else goes limp and quiet. I squirm. I always have to fight back a sneeze, a cough, or an itch that’s going to disrupt the harmony of the group. So I do most of my meditating alone. Tesla taught me that meditating is more and being silent and aware of your breath. It’s opening up your mind to a blank screen, then creating with your brain, not just in a flat dimension, but in multi-dimensions. It’s untethering your imagination and letting it roam out “there” where there are no limits. This remote viewing or inner eye meditation allows you to see what doesn’t yet exist.

In his autobiography Tesla describes his ability to “see” an apparatus in detail. He could start a motor in his mind and leave it running until he took it apart and put it back together, all before it ever existed in reality.

Try it. Take a problem or an invention and create a solution or an answer in your mind first. The trick is not to force it or to rely on your own abilities. Open yourself to the Source of all creation and don’t be hesitate to work out the minutest details.

Brainstorming

There’s a pun in here because in 1856 Tesla was born during a violent lightning storm in what is now Croatia. Did that contribute to his lifelong obsession with lightning? That’s the consensus. Did “light” enter him and somehow reshape his brain? Some people think so. What we do know is that Tesla was apt at brainstorming, even though he preferred to invent alone; he liked to brainstorm with his associates.

Brainstorm is a term we used to hear a lot more frequently. It means to gather others with the intention of pooling ideas to create or problem solve.

Tesla had some brilliant minds he could draw from: George Westinghouse, J. P. Morgan, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, and of course, his rival Thomas Edison. He had brainstorming discussions with them all.

We tend to think we have to solve our problems on our own, especially if we feel we caused them. (That’s rubbish thinking and a topic for another day.)

There’s a freedom and a power in brainstorming. If you aren’t comfortable going to friends or colleagues to brainstorm, how about approaching your Highest Power to ask the Creator of the universe if there’s time to spare for a little brainstorming session with you? The answer will always be yes.

Fail to Succeed

These past few weeks have been painful for me as a mom. Elijah ran for a studentbody office and lost. Then he applied for a leadership scholarship and lost. He bounced right back and joined the track team. He’s that resilient. I’m not. I sting and smart and nurse my bruises for a bit, especially the ones my children experience. Oh well…that’s life and life is how we learn.

Nikola Tesla was arguably the foremost genius of the 20th century. He’s the reason you can flip a switch and have electricity in your home, he’s the reason you put on a lead apron before having an x-ray taken, he’s the reason that little Smartphone in your hand exists.

He was a tremendous success which means he was also a tremendous failure. Overcoming obstacles was how to learned and grew. He was born into poverty and war. His teachers failed to grasp his genius and accused him of cheating. He almost died of cholera. His lost his college scholarship and became addicted to gambling, at one point his shame led him to cut ties with his family, letting them believe he was dead. He even suffered a nervous breakdown before he overcame the doubts that swarmed his brain. When he arrived at Ellis Island he was 28-years-old with only a thin volume of poetry, a handwritten letter, and four cents in American currency.

What Tesla lacked outwardly, he more than made up for inwardly. That handwritten letter? It was addressed to a fellow named Thomas Edison who soon became Tesla’s employer and later his rival.

Over the next sixty years Tesla would fail again and again. He would lose fortunes. He would lose respect and support. In the end, he lost his brilliance and died alone in a New York City hotel room.

Don’t shoot me for giving away such a tragic ending. It wasn’t tragic at all. Nikola Tesla lived his dream. His passion was to improve the world and to improve the lives of the impoverished. He never forgot his upbringing and developed a love for the Earth that led him to seek clean, renewable energy sources.

Against the odds, his life was blindingly successful.

And so is yours.

You might not have his scientific gifts, no one does, but you have your own gifts. Are you tapping into them? Are you opening yourself to true inspiration? Are you pooling your resources, especially the One that has all your answers? Are you willing to risk failure to succeed?

Me? I’ve got a lot of work to do. A lot. But every time I come across someone or something that inspires me, I want to take a moment and jot it down to share with you. I’m so grateful to each of you who read what I write, who go to the trouble to tell me what you think and how you feel about the variegated subjects I throw out there. With that, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Tesla quotes: “All that was great in the past was ridiculed, condemned, combated, suppressed — only to emerge all the more powerfully, all the more triumphantly from the struggle.”

Four Fun Ways to Keep Your Brain Young and Alert

Research is proving that what we thought was impossible is really possible. We can change our brains. Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity are real. In all of my efforts to learn about how to alter thoughts, I’m discovering ways to keep our minds sharp and our brains from degenerating. Here are my top four:

  1. Harvard Medical School suggests we hedge our future brain cell loss through cognitive stimulation. That means challenging our noggins every single day. Adding new information. Reading. Doing math problems. Hand-Eye coordination activities are best of all because things like drawing, painting, or crafting require that we use our hands in conjunction with our brains. People who play musical instruments have a definite brain advantage when it comes to aging. Engineer something that requires full participation. I’ve never considered myself smart, but Rosetta Stone and Duolingo have given me the chance to ask, “Where’s the bathroom?” in seven different languages! Anything to challenge lazy neurons to get up and move!
  2. What you feed your body, you feed your brain. As the fattest organ in your body and something that is made of 75 percent water, when your body in undernourished or dehydrated your brain does not function properly. People don’t realize that brain fog has a cause. Too much sugar. Not enough water. Lack of deep, healing sleep. Over stimulation. Under stimulation. Too many or too few calories. All of these factors contribute to your brain’s health and function. So…cut back or better yet, cut out alcohol and tobacco. Increase clean foods like fruits and vegetables and healthy fats that come from nature…walnuts, salmon, etc. If your body is suffering from high blood pressure, out of whack blood sugar levels, or high levels of LDS, you’re at higher risk for dementia.
  3. When you move your body you move your brain. Sufficient exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that help you “feel good” to do good things. Lab animals that exercise regularly increase the number of blood vessel that feed the brain oxygen, especially to the parts that are responsible for thought. Take a walk. Go for a hike. Run. Take an exercise class or sweat to an instructional video. The fitness level of your body correlates with the fitness of your brain. That’s plenty of motive to get up and get going! And to add to this motivation, nature itself has a decided effect on the brain. It’s easy to release stress when you’re sitting on the bank of a stream, the sun warming your back. Nature is heaven’s Great Physician.
  4. Your social interactions have a tremendous effect on your brain’s health. Remember that emotions are consequences of your thoughts. You think a thought. Your brain has an electro-chemical release. Emotion results. You feel what you feel depending on which chemicals your thoughts release. How you feel determines how you act. And so the cycle begins again. YOU can change your brain’s chemistry to a degree by changing your thoughts. So think the best of yourself. Give others the benefit of the doubt and have faith that things will work out no matter how bleak your current circumstances might be. That means being careful about the people you let into your inner circle, the ones who influence you the most. Make sure they bring light, truth and love and loads of laughter. Most of all, I have to remind myself that I’m supposed to bring those things to my friendships. Healthy friendships contribute to healthy brains. There are studies that prove when a person feels threatened, that threat is lessened in the hytpothalamus if someone they love holds their hand. Love and trust—no better medicine. The best kinds of people to associate with are those who stimulate your brain. Your conversations won’t be petty and redundant. Your exchange will never focus on attacking anyone else, because a part of the subconscious brain realizes that if a person is capable of tearing someone else down behind their back, they’re capable of doing that to you—so building trust is hampered and suspicion resides in your amygdala which helps process fear and emotional memories, and your parahippocampal gyrus, which helps process and store memory. Suspicion releases adrenalin-related chemicals that can do actual brain damage over extended periods, so hang out with people you can trust. A healthy friend will challenge you with new information and ideas. They’ll be concerned about nutrition…and won’t urge you to indulge in consuming what’s not healthy for you, even though you might share a decadent meal once in a while. They’ll move with you for strength and health. They go camping. Shopping. Playing sports and games and spending time together in nature. They’ll embrace you because there is no stronger force in the universe than the power of the human touch. The brain responds to sensory data, so when you get touched, it feels that connection and responds.

So there you have my top four ideas to help you think cleaner and clearer. It takes training to stop and “think” about what you’re doing to your brain. But once you make the body/brain connection—that one affects the other—then you’ll get into the habit of making better choices. And that’s all we can hope to do…improve and progress one thought, one action at a time.

 

http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/12-ways-to-keep-your-brain-young

Coan, J. A., Schaefer, H., & Davidson, R. (2006). Lending a hand. Psychological Science17(12), 1032.

http://research.vtc.vt.edu/news/2012/may/16/suspicion-resides-two-regions-brain-our-baseline-l/

 

An Old Enemy and a New Friend

I’m back and rearing to go. Only I can’t move. I severely injured my back, or maybe reinjured it, and it’s got me immobile and miserable. Seems I don’t fully appreciate something until it’s gone—like a spine without bulging ruptures. Or medical insurance. But it’s not a wasted experience. So far I’ve shifted my thinking about an old enemy, and I’ve met a new inspiration that I want you to know too.

I’ve always classified pain as something to run from and avoid at all costs. I’ve viewed it as a mortal enemy. I was wrong. Pain is part of life. Avoiding it is avoiding life. That said, being in this much physical pain is horrific. It makes me edgy and despondent. Maybe if I had listened to its whisperings earlier I wouldn’t be suffering from all its screaming now. C.S. Lewis explained that: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I’m hearing you, Pain. I’m listening now. I know now that you’re more of a frenemy than an enemy. You’re my body’s warning system that something is wrong and needs attending to. Little parts of nerve endings in my injured area are called nociceptors. When they are damaged they trigger a communication highway that moves through nerves, up the spinal cord, into the brain’s thalamus. It’s the sorting center that assesses and sends signals to other parts of your brain that control touch, emotion, physical reaction and memory. In short, my brain regulates the rest of me. Every part works to identify and report my pain so that I can best deal with it.

Now that I’ve made frenemies with my pain, I can appreciate what it’s telling me. I can be more empathetic with others who suffer. I can appreciate that pain is forcing me to be still when I want to get up and hike my snowy home town hills. Its severity warns me that this time, I might need more than bedrest if I’m going to get better and not worse. What I’ve got now is acute pain. What I do NOT want is chronic pain. All this lead me to discover that my Catholic friends have a patron saint for back pain. Her name is St. Gemma Galgani. When Gemma was a girl in 1898 she suffered what is believed to have been spinal tuberculosis. Unlike me, she endured with a jovial attitude and unwavering faith. She lay immobile for over a year, went through agonizing cauterizations, and was forced to wear a hideous iron back brace. She was at the doorstep of death when a miracle healed her—partly. For two months she was able to move and wear her brace before the atrophied muscles around her spine grew strong enough to serve her. Now she is a compassionate comfort and inspiration to all those suffering back pain.

I’m not Catholic, but St. Gemma inspires me. And pain isn’t something I detest anymore. I won’t be so quick to ignore its warnings. I won’t be so quick to mask its messages. I can recognize it as a gift from my Divine Designer to warn me and guide me.

I’ll be fine. I have a comfy bed. I have a son who went to Walgreen’s at midnight to get me a heating pad. I have a heart full of gratitude and faith that healing is possible. And my happy news in all of this is that if I can change my thoughts about an old enemy like pain, I can change my thoughts period. That friends, is my mission for a new and empowered life, and it’s nothing short of a miracle as real as St. Gemma Galgani casting off her brace and walking on her own.